23 October 2013

Lost City: Washington D.C. Edition: The Italian Store

I have relatives in various areas of the country. I enjoy visiting them, but, food-wise, often find the occasions discouraging. For many of my relations live in various suburbs. These days, "suburb" might as well be a synonym for "food desert." Eating options include the usual chains. As for at-home dining, let's just say a large portion of our country's population relies of frozen and processed food for their daily sustenance.

Being from New York, I am, of course, spoiled where comestibles are concerned. So spoiled that I've developed a glass stomach. Truly, eating at fast food joints or chowing down on the salty caloric entrees at Chili's or Applebee's can make me physically ill. I simply can't eat that stuff anymore.

Recently, I paid a call on a cousin in Arlington, VA. I didn't have any great hopes where meals were concerned. But then The Italian Store was casually pointed out to me as a place worth checking out.

I didn't have high hopes. Again, coming from New York, I have been exposed to the best in Italian groceries and delicatessens. I didn't expect that a place that gave itself the crushingly obvious name of The Italian Store—a place situated in a strip mall next to a Starbucks—would impress.

But it did. The Italian Store is one of the finest shops of its kind I've encountered. It has all the imported Italian products you expect to find, and a great deal more. I spotted many brands of Italian olive oil, water, soda, pasta, tomato sauce and other things I had never seen before. The house made pizzas were quite good (they sell them by the slice, a rarity in D.C.) and the sandwiches are excellent. There's also a good wine section.

The locals know how good it is. When I stopped by on a Friday afternoon the place was packed with people ordering sandwiches and pies for their dinners. I asked the cashier if it was always like this, and he said the business was actually pretty light that day!

There's a good reason The Italian Store is so good. Hate to brag, but it's because the founding family came from New York. The shop was opened in 1980 by Vincent Tramonte, who was born in New York to parents from Calabria and Civitavecchia. Vincent moved to northern Virginia in the 1940s. He liked it but found it hard to get good Italian food. Eventually, he solved his own problem by opening the store.


Ed said...

My main hope that the "old" New York survives is in establishments like this opened here and there by exiles across the country. There is precedent for this, and my experience is that the locals in other places like these things. But because this is scattered, only a store or restaurant here or there, and the same forces operating in New York are operating everywhere, I try not to get my hopes up.

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid in Queens, we always referred to the place that sold Italian cheese, sausages, salami, etc., as "The Italian Store." I'm sure it had a real name, but I never knew it,and everyone in the neighborhood would know what store you were referring to.